A Story to Orient Our Lives: Narrative

December 29th, 2009 / 73 Comments

If language is too slippery and we have no certain foundation upon which to build a worldview, are Christians lost? Is there any way to find meaning in a postmodern world?

In my previous post, I identified strengths and weaknesses of deconstructive postmodernism. I turn now to narrative postmodernism, the second dominant postmodern tradition worth careful consideration. It overcomes some weaknesses of deconstructive postmodernism.

Narrative postmodernism deals with uncertainty by encouraging us to find meaning and truth in stories.  The stories we tell and the way in which we tell them arise from particular points of view.  Our own points of view are only intelligible as part of a larger story.

Narrative postmodernism encourages us to find meaning and truth in stories. Click To Tweet

A host of factors have fashioned our perspectives on life: how we’ve been raised, what we’ve been taught, and whom we know.  Most importantly, the particular community in which we dwell provides a meaningful life story.  Stories truly matter.  Better: stories matter truly.

Consider the great religious teachers.  Moses, Mohammed, Jesus, and Gautama Buddha all lived and taught in ways that caused others to revere them.  Communities emerged in their wake.  These teachers and their traditions supply some of the grand stories in which we live.

Narrative postmodernists believe that understanding reality as story overcomes two main problems in modernism.

One modern tradition claims that the only things worth taking seriously are logical propositions that “picture” the world.  They think the real world is comprised of independent elementary facts capable of empirical investigation.

Modernism says we can only consider something meaningful if expressed in universally reasonable or factual language.  Logic, mathematics, and the natural sciences are the only adequate bricks for building a meaningful worldview.

The result of this modern view is that theology and spirituality cannot be taken seriously.  After all, God cannot be conclusively verified with our five senses. “No one has seen God,” says the biblical writer. Spirituality is concerned at least in part with the unseen.  The heart has reasons that reason cannot fully know.

God cannot be conclusively verified with our five senses. Click To Tweet

Theology concerns itself with more than what is logical or sensory. For this reason, atheistic modernists say theology is gibberish.  The church traffics in nonsense.  To use the words of the modern philosopher Bertrand Russell, theology is “an opponent of progress and improvement in all the ways that diminish suffering in the world.”

The second problem inherent in modernism, say narrative postmodernists, is that each individual is considered entirely autonomous. Modernism champions independence. Among other things, this means that truth is individualistic. We’ve already seen that forms of deconstructive postmodernism have this problem.

Narrative postmodernism argues that meaning is found in, and arises out of, particular communities.  Truth is communal, not individualistic.

Narratives postmodernists say truth is communal, not individualistic. Click To Tweet

Narrative postmodernists agree that there is no objective all-encompassing standard by which to judge truth.  Universal reason is an illusion.  But they retain a place for reason, meaning, and truth. The community’s language games and forms of life determine what is reasonable, meaningful and true.

Take the word “liberal” as an example.  Some communities associate the word with ways of thinking they reject outright.  In other communities, the word means generous and openhanded.  Some mainly use “liberal” to refer to progressive politics.  Still others use the word to mean a wide variety of influences.  The context and the community’s forms of life determine the meaning of “liberal.”

George Lindbeck’s book, The Nature of Doctrine, is a forerunner for the Christian appropriation of narrative postmodernism.  To be a Christian, argues Lindbeck, is to become part of a community formed by the Christian cultural-linguistic system.  Converting to Christianity is more about joining a new team than embracing a new set of ideas or beliefs.  Team life and vocabulary identify the team’s allegiances.

One of the more powerful forms of Christian narrative postmodernism adopts the label, Radical Orthodoxy.  This theological sentiment seeks to rethink the Christian tradition without the constraints of a modernist worldview.  According to Radical Orthodox theologians, modernity is a heretical deviation from orthodoxy.

Radical Orthodoxy critically retrieves premodern roots of Christianity – particularly resources in Augustine and medieval theologians. It especially appreciates what philosophers call, “Continental philosophy.”

Graham Ward describes the Radical Orthodoxy program in this way: “Employing the tools of critical reflexivity honed by continental thinking, taking on board the full implications of what has been termed the linguistic turn, Radical Orthodoxy reads the contemporary world through the Christian tradition, weaving it into the narrative of that tradition.”

Other Christian narrative theologians call their theological position, “Postliberal.”  Postliberal theologians are interested in practices and liturgies derived from the classic Christian traditions.  They regard the Bible as offering a story arising from a particular form of life and with a unique language.

Narrative postmodernism allows Christians to evade criticism from those outside the Christian community (e.g., modernists, liberals, Muslims). If narrative postmodernism is true, we should not expect an outsider to understand Christianity’s community-derived logic.  An outsider’s critique is only valid if it corresponds with some part of the story Christians already affirm.

Narrative postmodernism has its critics, of course. Here is some of what critics say:

While narrative postmodernism rightfully asks Christians to listen attentatively to its own tradition, critics argue it allows no space for genuine criticism from within the community itself.  The community cannot hear the voice of the prophets – both inside and outside – if it accepts without question the old, old story passed down.

For instance, if Christian practices or ancient Christian worldviews promote patriarchy, anti-Semitism, or ecological recklessness, narrative postmodernism provides no standard beyond the community’s own narrative by which to seek change.  There can be no reference to a universal authority that transcends the community’s particular language game.

Critics of narrative postmodernism are also often dissatisfied with the narrative model, or lack thereof, for how one should understand the person, human self, soul, or individual.  While modernity wrongly deemed individuals unrelated and essentially autonomous, narrative postmodernism seems not to allow persons authentic independence.  Authoritarian communities can be just as devastating as isolated individualism.

Authoritarian communities can be just as devastating as isolated individualism. Click To Tweet

Critics question narrative postmodernism’s grounding of truth in the community.  While narrative postmodernists overcome radical individual relativism, they shift to a relativism of communities.  What is true is relative to a community and its way of life.  There is no over-arching or universal standard by which to judge the adequacy of diverse truth-claims offered by communities that disagree with one another.  One cannot appeal to ultimate truth, for instance, when seeking to convert nonChristians.

Some critics argue, finally, that the Christian story itself requires us to embrace the possibility that truth and meaning exists outside the Christian community.  If God is present to all creation, Christians must listen for truth outside Christendom’s conceptual walls.  Evangelism and interfaith dialogue requires one to remain open to transformation by those outside one’s own linguistic community.  Christians ought to seek a grand narrative, say critics of narrative postmodernism, that accounts for truth wherever it emerges.

If God is present to all creation, Christians must listen for truth outside Christendom. Click To Tweet

I find narrative postmodernism helpful in many ways. It rightly calls us away from radical individualism and radical relativism.  It reminds us that the community has a wisdom that transcends its individual parts.

Narrative postmodernism rightly reminds us that truth is bigger than what we can condense in logical propositions and perceive through our sensory organs.

But I join the critics who seek an overarching narrative. I think God’s truth transcends the Christian community – although I also think the broad Christian tradition does a better job than other religious traditions telling us about God.

I also think that an adequate postmodern theology provides a balance between individual and community. Modernity surely swung the balance too far toward individualism. Narrative postmodernism overcompensates, however, by overly privileging the community. We need a healthy balance.

While I don’t think deconstructive postmodernism serves well as the primary framework for contemporary Christian theologians, I also don’t think narrative postmodernism functions well as the primary framework.  There is much in narrative postmodernism to which I say “yes.” However, the tradition still prompts me to say “but.”

I recommend that postmodern Christian theologians draw from narrative postmodernism. But I also recommend that Christians seek an overarching narrative in which to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Or, perhaps better put, the gospel of Jesus Christ points to an overarching narrative about God and creation that transcends all individual and communal narratives.

We may never grasp that overarching narrative in its entirety. But settling for what we know is only part of the story — as important a part as that may be — is ultimately unsatisfying.

The gospel points to an overarching narrative that transcends individual and communal narratives. Click To Tweet
Add comment

Comments

Bob Hunter

Is it your opinion that narrative postmodernism influenced the development of narrative theology (Post liberal theology) as we have come to know it in the last 30 years or so?  (Stanley Hauerwas, Ray Anderson, James McLenden, etc).  Kinda seems like there is a connection there.


Thomas Jay Oord

Bob,

Yes, the folks you mention as identified with postliberal theology fit comfortably under the broad umbrella of narrative postmodernism.

I find some of what they say helpful.  But I think they give up on some important questions pertaining to metaphysics and rationality.

Tom


Kevin Bowser

Tom,

Thanks for stopping by and commenting on my blog (http://kjkebblog.blogspot.com/).  You asked for suggestions, well, I may have a few.  I am willing to dialog with you on the topic of holiness and how it interacts with us today and how it should interact with us today.

Kevin


Amy Lehman

God is our “universal authority” and He is present in every community, nation and tribe.  If God is truth and He is everywhere, then there is truth outside the Christian community.  The dilemma for Christians is how to step into other communities and show people the God that is already there.  “Evangelism and interfaith dialogue requires one to remain open to transformation by those outside one’s own linguistic community.”  This statement is true and vital to reaching the lost.  While religious communities are crucial for one’s spiritual growth, they are not meant to keep non-believers out.  Jesus commands us to share the Gospel, not keep it to ourselves.  A community cannot live within its own linguistic culture and expect outsiders to understand and feel that they belong.  Jesus met people where they were, and He used language and stories they could understand.  We must learn to do the same.


Grant Miller

I would agree with the general tone of this piece and Dr. Oord’s comments, both positive and negative, about narrative postmodernism. While I think the need for that “overarching” narrative is what fails to make narrative postmodernism the answer to modernisms failings, I do appreciate the consistent call to community and the formation of truth through communal experience.

I have also been thinking about this topic from a Wesleyan approach, which in my understanding necessitates the interaction between the individual and the community in order for a person to be formed spiritually. We choose to emphasize Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, and I think that each of those four important points must be understood in both an individual and communal sense. My personal growth and understanding of all four should be occurring in my individual life while being coupled and informed by my deep involvement in the church.


Dan Chapman

The addition of narrative postmodernism theology offers some healthy ‘re-balancing’ from the deconstructive postmodernism.  For instance, narrative postmodernism puts a high emphasis on the need for community.  Deconstructive postmodernism puts the emphasis on the individual.  I believe the Christian community is vital for spiritual transformation of the individual believer.  I am concerned with the power of the community that narrative postmodernism teaches.  No community is healthy and is always in need of re-calibration either from the outside or from the inside. Narrative postmodernism does not allow this type of re-calibration which for me is dangerous.


Buford Edwards

Dr. Oord,

Your statement, “narrative postmodernism argues that meaning is found in, and arises out of, particular communities.  Truth is communal, not individualistic,” which as you pointed out flies in the face of the modernist that states that truth is individualistic in nature.  The modernist desires to operate in isolation apart from any sort of accountability, particularly the accountability of God.  If one is accountable only to one’s self, then whatever one wants to do or “feels” is right, then so be it, after all there is no one to judge the acts rightness or wrongness. 

Truth is “communal” and is not determined in a vacuum. There are certain undeniable truths that regardless of what we personally think will always be true.  For instance, gravity is true.  If I climb to the top of a building and jump off, gravity says I will fall.  That is true regardless of whether I want to believe it or not.  The same holds true with certain aspects of theology.  Jesus tells us that He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  I can choose to believe that or not, but whether it is truth or not, while we may try to debate it, will never change.

For me, the postmodern narrative theology attempts to reach this point but falls short in that it fails to recognize any truth outside of a particular community.  There are many communities in the world that do not hold to the same truth as a Christian does and in those instances I would argue that the community is wrong.  Therefore, not all things are open to the community interpretation.  Some things are simply true on their own merit.


jason newman

There are some real good things in narrative theology. The emphasis away from propositions and mental only theology is very positive. Likewise the emphasis on finding your place in the community is a re-capturing of a needed emphasis as well.
The power of community os the key for me. Pachomius was drawn to be a Christian not by the teaching of the Church, but by the love that the Christians showed to the army that he was part of. Later Pachomius became a staunch defender of orthodoxy, so the content of the Faith does matter.


Amy

Why are there so many critics regarding Narrative Post Modernism? From what I am understanding Narrative postmodernism helps you understand more about uncertainty and it allows you to find meaning and the real truth in stories. This is what Jesus did all the time. He taught in parables so that we can find truth and meaning to what it was he was trying to teach. I am starting to realize that there is critics for every single thing. There was a part in this article where it says that narrative postmodernism reminds us that truth is bigger than what we can condense. I absolutely agree with this. Finding the truth in Jesus is bigger than we can ever grasp.


Raquel Pereira

This post on narrative postmodernism is very helpful in several ways. It puts in right perspective what narrative postmodernism is, particularly in comparison with modern views. It explains its different forms: radical orthodoxy and postliberalism. It exposes its weak points as much as the strong ones. However, what was really meaningful was the pointing out of the real issue that emerges from reflecting on all these perspectives: on which ground should a Christian worldview be built, in our postmodern world. And the answer given at the end is not a straight forth one, but rather comprehensive, which I would like to quote because I think it encompasses all that is needed, “the gospel of Jesus Christ points to an overarching narrative about God and creation that transcends all individual and communal narratives.”
Modernity and its influence has impacted Church more than Christianity has grown in shaping the overall community where it is integrated. And that has brought a sense of inability in how to overcome the tiring notion that everything has to have a reason and a factual explanation. The search for spirituality everywhere is the inward reaction to that, but sometimes the object of that search leads to more troubles than meaning. Also the modernity emphasis on individuality over community might be one of the reasons we have so many cases of loneliness and depression starting so early in peoples’ lives, because we have not been trained nor challenged to “build bridges”, instead of just being focused on our “islands”.
Although with its pitfalls and incongruences, narrative postmodernism brings a new “whiff of fresh air” to Christianity’s standing in the world today. Being aware of its weakness, it is important to find balance between voicing tradition and giving room for true criticism, between community and authentic personhood, knowing that community does not hold all truth, and as such meaning can also be found outside Christianity. In doing that one can hold to the only narrative that embraces and gives meaning to all truths, which is the one that refers to the Person Truth – Jesus Christ.


Leslie D. Oden

Dr. Oord,

While trying to understand the variations among the different theologies; I have concluded that narrative postmodernism is to abstract, and modernism is to concrete. Through story telling shared meaning is established within a community and produces reality.  Outside of the community truth cannot be formed. I am reminded of High-context cultures as a way of implementing some of the concepts presented on narrative modernism. The emphasis of the community as a primary element for truth and reality is something I can relate to. If, truth is inherently individualistic, how does one come to the truth on his/her own? From my perspective truth is derived from community; however, that does not mean the concluded truth was always a mutually agreed upon truth. Many scholars would say that you are not communicating if you have to established “shared meaning”. Shared meaning or the truth is achieved by a communication process. I wonder how much of the critics of the different theologies is a linguistics problem?

Leslie


Topher Taylor

For the most part I do like thinking about coming from a narrative postmodern perspective. It allows us to fit into the story of Christianity as soon as we hear it. There is something big about joining in community with others as we share in the Story. However, the criticism that I also agree with is that within this boundary we don’t have any way of changing Christian ideals and orientations based on the changing world. Within this context we should still be okay with saying women shouldn’t teach in the church and we should still be able to have slaves and trade our daughters because the story being passed down is one that includes each of these things. We need to be able to adopt a morality that accepts change based on universal truths and not just Christian truths, otherwise there would be no need to think we’re doing anything wrong, it seems.


Nicholas Carpenter

I, as yourself Dr. Oord, find many aspects of postliberal/narrative theology very attractive. I like the idea of communal thinking and growing, and thinking of community in both a tribal sense (the physical/cultural location one is in) and the global sense (connecting with the Catholic/universal Church). Also the idea that our understanding of faith and God is developed tremendously by our own stories and the stories that have gone before us. These stories that we have read in Scripture, heard in Church, or witnessed in our own lives shape much of our faith journey. But I would also say we have to keep postliberal/narrative theology as a great asset and resource without it becoming our primary framework considering its lack of universal truth (which I am inclined to think is the love and grace of God, demonstrated in Jesus Christ).


Tara West

I appreciated the clarity this blog post gave me regarding narrative postmodernism as well as radical orthodoxy, modernism, and post liberalism. The key focus for me is balance.  There are many good points in each of these approaches to theology, but all of them are lacking in one area or another.  For narrative postmodernism, the lack lies in the elimination of individuality as well as the denial of universal truths, leaving truth to be defined by each community.
God made us each unique for a reason.  We all play a part in making up the whole Body of Christ.  If the individual is denied or overlooked so that the concentration is solely on the community, then the God’s intent could be partially missed or negated.  Also, considering that God works in every person according to their individual personalities, attributes, and experiences, then the growth of people could be hindered if their identity is completely absorbed into the group.
In regards to truth being defined by each community, denying the existence of universal truths, there is a caution in my spirit.  What would prevent them from becoming misled and essentially transforming into a cult?  Isn’t the lack of individualism and the identification of a group being made up by the group themselves exactly what leads people astray, at times to the point of losing touch entirely with God’s plan?
There must be balance between community and individuals, and there also needs to be a recognition of some truths that are true no matter what or who.  The statements in this blog post that say it best for me are:  “I find narrative postmodernism helpful in many ways. It rightly calls us away from radical individualism and radical relativism.  It reminds us that the community has a wisdom that transcends its individual parts.  Narrative postmodernism rightly reminds us that truth is bigger than what we can condense in logical propositions and perceive through our sensory organs.  But I join the critics who seek an overarching narrative. I think God’s truth transcends the Christian community – although I also think the broad Christian tradition does a better job than other religious traditions telling us about God……I also think that an adequate postmodern theology provides a balance between individual and community. Modernity surely swung the balance too far toward individualism. Narrative postmodernism overcompensates, however, by overly privileging the community. We need a healthy balance.”


Rod Ellis

I find many things about narrative postmodernism appealing. Narrative carries within it a power for change and a vehicle through which the Holy Spirit may operate to produce that change. One such change is in the creation of relationship among the community of believers and with God. This relationship is a powerful witness to the reality of God and of the Gospel message.

There are things I am not comfortable with about this theology. I can’t agree with the rejection of universal law. I think there is evidence for the presence of universal law in both the Scripture and in creation.  Neither am I willing to say that the power to convince others of the Gospel is restricted to narrative as expressed in community. I think there is power in the recognition of natural law. Although natural law may not be sufficient to lead one to Christ I believe it to be sufficient to cause one to initiate the search. The searcher may then be lead to Christ through the Scripture, the attraction of the community, or some combination of the two. 

For me, narrative postmodernism makes positive contributions to personal theology, but is not adequate to define it.


Anita

While I welcome the correction that narrative postmodernism brings to modernity in terms of emphasizing community and story, I do believe that narrative postmodernism over-corrects and emphasizes community to its detriment. One issue that was touched upon, is the inability then of the community to hear the prophetic voice. In addition, communities can themselves become individualistic in nature. Think about denominationalism. If each denomination were to only interpret truth through their own community, it cuts itself off not only from the greater world, but the greater Christian community.  On another note, the narrative postmodernist’s embrace of story but rejection of a grand overarching story is puzzling to me. Narrative postmodernism brings much to the table for consideration, but as is your conclusion, it’s not solid enough a framework for the Christian theologian.


Thomas Evans

I do agree that postmodernism has a valid point of bringing around the view of the community over the view of the individual.  Individuals are limited in their view.  Communities provide a greater amount of people who may have additional knowledge from just an individual point of view.  When it comes to knowledge about God, individuals might be limited in their knowledge of God.  Their knowledge has been gained from their own experience, their church communities, and from Christian readings.  Depending on how much information they have gained over their live times will depend on how much they know about their God.  A Christian individual that invest additional time in studying spiritual formation might gain a great amount of knowledge about God because of their disciplines.  This gives them greater insight because they have been exposed to the Holy Spirit throughout their studies.  It is hoped that they share their knowledge gained with the rest of the Christian community.  Thus, they enrich the entire community so they are able to establish a better understanding of God.  Certain truths will be understood, which are different that those who do not spend additional time studying about God.  Postmodernism is still limited by its understanding of the community but better because it down plays the individual.  I believe that postmodernism will entertain additional truths because the community can produce those truths when the community is expanding its knowledge base.


Janet L Grosskopf

From what I gathered from what you are saying… Neither individual Christianity nor communal Christianity can completely suffice to make or grow a balanced Christian. The Bible tells us to not forsake the assembling of other Christians and it tells us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. We are not called to be islands as many would desire to say is right today. Just as truthful is the fact that we must not neglect the personal growth that happens when we get alone with God and seek his face. In my last class we discussed a balance in order to find the truth and seeking to be transformed instead of some 12 step plan that is mad up of only head knowledge.


Michelle Borbe

I really appreciated your view on the balance needed from the individual and the community. I feel like it is the human condition to always seeking after the next best thing in whatever area of life we come to. I feel like religion has done this and Christianity has done this as well. This is why we see times like modernity where people are seeking out God in an individual manner because of the focus that was spent on the community and we have postmodernity doing the opposite. Whatever way the pendulum swings there will always be a time where things are swinging just right, but then shortly after there will always be a need for the pendulum to swing the opposite direction.  I appreciated your comments on both the positive and the negative effects, because just like all pendulums there are both the positive and negative.  In doing so we look at the big picture, at the overall arch of the swing.


Aaron Mednansky

One of the lessons that I have learned came from a month long mission trip to a remote village in Ukraine. I was helping lead an English conversation camp, using the Bible and the popular stories, of Adam and Eve, Moses, Jesus, and Noah’s Ark. While the stories and lessons of Christ and salvation come by being in contact within a Christian community, even Christian communities can be different. While teaching at this camp we were telling them the story of Noah and the animals coming to the Ark; as I would say an animal name in English I would make the noise that was associated with the animal. About three animals into the story I was getting weird looks from the kids and finally my translator. After a short conversation I found out the animal sounds are different depending on where you live. For us a frog says ribbit, but they explained it to me that a frog to them says “criiickey”.
It is important for Christians to have a community to help us understand scripture in larger view outside of our own sometimes self centered views. Having a community to speak life and truth to us, helps us from going down the road of making up what is true to me. It makes the truth found in scripture more sound by having a group of believers saying this is true rather then just one individual. Even greater are the truths the multiple communities can agree on being true. Like I mentioned from my experience in Ukraine; our two different communities may see and understand certain things differently but the truth about Christ and His salvation and love for us is something that we could agree to be true together, and allowing us to have a larger universal truth as a community of Christians.


Brian Troxell

Narrative Postmodernism is apparantly about the community of faith and the parts and pieces that fall under that umbrella. In a world that has the internet at it’s fingertips, I am wondering how long this reality can stand?
I am finding more and more that “truth seekers” are grabbing at whatever they can find on the information super highway and then running with it. The umbrella of authority that used to be the pulpit is now just another voice in a loud room of voices.
What I am saying is that it appears that there is and/or will soon be a breakdown in the “pureness” of community and therefore the individual will be running more and more wildly on their own…while seemingly a part of the community.
I am wondering if this reality will coin a new term or maybe even usher in a new era that is yet to be named. If I am referring to something that already exists please let me know.


Amy Byerley

Mr. Oord,
You had mentioned how narrative postmodernism deals with uncertainty by encouraging us to find meaning and truth in stories. You had also mentioned how stories we tell is from our own point of view. When I was reading this article, I was thinking about the Gospels in the bible. We read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and their stories. There are many duplicate stories, but all written from their own point of view or what they got out of what they witnessed. It does not mean that there story was wrong from the next. I then began to think about what you had said in regards to our perspectives of life and how we were raised. What we had seen, or how we were taught, or who we even knew. I wonder if that is why their stories were all different. It was coming from their perspective and how they were raised. I was just curious to your thoughts regarding that.
I also agree that our stories do matter. They are our stories, our own testimonies. It’s about whom we were and how much Christ has transformed us. Testimonies are very powerful in our Christian faith.


Will Albright

From what I have read, I agree that this perspective leaves little room for individualism. However, I think that individualism can be a slippery slope. Too much and the emphasis becomes overly self-centered. Not enough and the uniqueness of self in the individual becomes lost. I think that the balance comes from finding the individuals uniqueness and role within the community. As communal creators, we are only able to function as designed within a community.

The analogy that comes to mind is a pack of wolves. Within the pack, each wolf plays its own part based upon several factors that are directly influenced by that wolf’s uniqueness and individuality. As a pack, the wolves work together, though not always perfectly, to achieve their survival. When you have a lone wolf, a wolf that has separated itself from the rest of the pack, that wolf does not lose its “wolf-ness”, for it is still a wolf. However, it has lost part of its function or part of who it is because as a pack animal not within the pack it cannot function properly. Also note, that lone wolves tend to be more dangerous, detrimental, and reckless since they are not constrained by the authority of community.


Bill Segur

From this week and this article, I am starting to see more of a need for balance between individual and communal Christianity. While I still hold to that some has to come from us as individuals. Simply because there a no two people a like, therefore, some of this for me has to be achieved as an individual. However, I see the importance of the communal Christianity in the sense that I do not believe that we can do this Christian walk on our own. We need others to be apart of it. I think of my own personal walk when I came into the church and felt the call (as some would say-I was not sure what it was at the time) into ministry. I do not believe that I would have figured this out on my own and the community that was around me already knew.

I also think of this with my church. Each one of us is gifted a different way and we each have unique responsibility within the church that would not be done if we were not to do it. Therefore, even though I believe as an individual we come to know Christ and start a journey with God. It is within the community that we also find our purpose within that community. I do not believe there is to be a Lone Ranger within the community. He even had Tonto.


Monica Liberatore

I would agree with the narrative postmodernism belief that we should find truth and meaning in stories. If we follow the belief of modernism – things are only “meaningful if expressed in universally reasonable or factual language” — then we might as well be machines. It is the stories handed down from one generation to another that have driven humanity since the beginning of time. Contrary to Bertrand Russell’s belief that theology is “an opponent of progress and improvement in all the ways that diminish suffering in the world”, humanity has progressed by leaps and bounds with theology and stories as the root of the social systems.

I agree that we need to find a balance between the extremes of individualism and community; however, if I had to pick I would choose community and stories over individualism and logic.


Donnamie Ali

Living as I do in a plural society, I totally accept the viewpoint that ‘truth and meaning’ are not exclusive to the Christian community. In fact when we recognize this, it provides a bridge for the Christians to tell their stories to those of different faiths. The presumption that only Christianity has anything of value to offer to the world is erroneous and those who act on that presumption effectively close the doors to dialogue about the greatest story ever told- the life of Jesus and his salvific death for all of mankind.
I also agree that Christianity ‘does a better job’ … at telling the world about who God is. So perhaps we all need a bit of the wisdom the Apostle used on Mars hill when he seized the moment to tell the gathered philosophers about the unknown god they had erected an altar to.


Leon Drake

It seems humankind goes to great length to listen to anyone by God. Modernist argue we should listen to ourselves while narrative postmodernist argue we should listen to our community (seems like there was a time when the church has a lot more authority than today – even crowning kings). The overarching narrative is God’s narrative, which some would define as the Bible. However, that narrative has left much unsaid or at least a bit ambiguous: the uncertainties humankind looks to answer. One weakness of modernism is that each person can answer the questions for him/herself. We end up with different answers, different opinions and different truths. However, postmodernism gives authority to the community. Certainly, this will help guard against the individualism of modernism, but perhaps only narrows the number of difference (since each community now makes its own truth). This can be as unhealthy as the individualism of modernism (think Branch Davidians). While I argue for a universal story, it does not seem to have been written (yet).


Leon Drake

REPOST

It seems humankind goes to great length to listen to anyone but God. Modernist argue we should listen to ourselves while narrative postmodernist argue we should listen to our community (seems like there was a time when the church had a lot more authority than today – even crowning kings). The overarching narrative is God’s narrative, which some would define as the Bible. However, that narrative has left much unsaid or at least a bit ambiguous: the uncertainties humankind looks to answer. One weakness of modernism is that each person can answer the questions for him/herself. We end up with different answers, different opinions and different truths. However, postmodernism gives authority to the community. Certainly, this will help guard against the individualism of modernism, but perhaps only narrows the number of difference (since each community now makes its own truth). This can be as unhealthy as the individualism of modernism (think Branch Davidians). While I argue for a universal story, it does not seem to have been written (yet).


Michael Poole

Understanding the overarching narrative in its entirety may not be as important as we ascribe it to be. Knowing the totality of God is not something humans are capable of. If we are faithfully seeking God, we are able to see bits and pieces of the narrative at just the right time. It is up to us to trust God to give us all of those bits and pieces. It is also up to us to put those bits and pieces to use in serving God and humankind.


LAURETTA MARKET

I agree that Christianity can draw from the narrative of postmodernism, particularly as it relates to dealing with uncertainty by finding meaning and truth in stories. The mere telling of stories brings people together in community to listen and learn from experiences. Oord points out that “Truth is communal, not individualist” and “Jesus Christ points to an overarching narrative about God and creation that transcends all individual and communal narratives.” As an overarching narrative we will never fully understand it in its entirety because we are human and God is not. Yet, Jesus came so that we could gain a better understanding of who God really is. The study of Jesus’ life shows the benefit of story-telling as a way of imparting truth. He also modeled community with how He ministered with and taught the disciples. The lives of the disciples were forever changed after the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Christianity was never intended to be a religion requiring separation from the world. Christianity is a relationship with the living God. God is all over creation. You only need to look at the color of the fall leaves and the perfection in the landscape to see God’s fingerprints. There is so much to learn and see and love about God and ALL of the people of this earth. Christian people are empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring Christ’s message of love into world. Christian people, like all people have much to learn from one another. The overarching narrative in which to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ is the language of love. Love meets each and every individual where they are. Love is about relationship and community. Love is about helping a brother or sister in need. Love is about forgiveness. Love is about sharing our stories and being transparent and authentic. Bringing love into the world is the way to introduce Jesus, for He first becomes visible through the love of His disciples.


Kevin York

The main focus of this post is all about narrative postmodernism. The name of this movement speaks for itself. “Narrative postmodernism deals with uncertainty by encouraging us to find meaning and truth in stories” (Oord). When I first read this statement, I must admit that the hairs on the back of my neck started to bristle. By this, I mean that I thought this view of narrative postmodernism was speaking of Scripture when using the term stories. As I read through the rest of this post though, I was quickly proven to be wrong. “Narrative postmodernists believe that understanding reality as [a] story” (Oord). As expressed in the post, this is the opposite of modernism, which “says we can only consider something meaningful if expressed in universally reasonable or factual language” (Oord). As I look and examine myself, I would have to say that I am currently a follower of modernism. At the same time, this posting has me thinking about what it would change to view my life as a story, the story of who I am and how I came to be.
Word Count: 184
Oord, Thomas Jay. “A Story to Orient Our Lives” Narrative.” 29 December 2009. Thomas Jay Oord. Web. 30 October 2015.


jlgrosskopf91@yahoo.com

I think God’s truth transcends the Christian community – although I also think the broad Christian tradition does a better job than other religious traditions telling us about God. – See more at: http://thomasjayoord.com/index.php/blog/archives/a_story_to_orient_our_lives#sthash.4evqaxRV.dpuf

Truth, is more than tradition, tradition is not truth in and of itself. We are called to a faith that is more than just a bunch of rituals and time clocks being punched. Truth of the scriptures are best told when we tell them in light of a growing vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ. However, when I think about the kids that I am working with in my youth group, I know that if I brow beat them and tell them everything that they are doing wrong and that they are on a highway to hell, they will likely not return to youth group. What I have done is I work within the general groups capacity to hear what needs saying. I have rap sessions and explain to them how to know truth and how to find traces of God in their lives. Humanities truth is not the same as ours because our truth is based on our own personal experience. Not a single one of us will relate to God the same as someone else, the glory comes when they simply relate. God will usher them into the truth he desires for them. The message does not change but the package changes for each of us even just a little bit.


Ronald Miller

In response to the opening remarks of this blog, I could not miss the old adages of “actions speak louder than words” and the famous quotation from St Francis: “Preach Jesus, and if necessary use words.” This approach fits the criteria of the narrative postmodernist in seeing reality as a story. The blog starts to mention some Biblical characters who found attraction to what they communicated because they spoke from their reality; their passion was communicated through the realness of their situation. I appreciate the postmodern narrative approach as it creates space for theology to be interpreted in context, which is where Christianity needs to make sense.


bobby post

“Narrative postmodernism argues that meaning is found in, and arises out of, particular communities. Truth is communal, not individualistic.” These words penned by Tom really stuck out to me because I feel that when we think about everything that is said to be true, it goes back to where we are from and who we are around. When it comes to life, we often find ourselves reflecting on different truths that have been passed down from generation to generation, and we take that for truth. However, sometimes we turn it into our own truth and not what others think.

A great example of communal truth would be that of the Muslim and Jewish communities. They live by a set of rules that were established as truth many centuries ago, and families pass them down to each other and when you ask someone from those heritages, they will say that it is the truth.
In regards to the church, there have been several different communal truths out there and I wonder if that is what you would call denominationalism? Baptists have their own set of rules that people who grew up in it consider truth; Nazarenes do the same with the “Code of Conduct” and “sixteen articles of faith”. the one thing they all have in common is that they believe in God, Jesus, the Church, and sacraments. Those would be universal truths.


hubert tiger

Dr. Oord certainly provides some very important recommendations for the postmodern theologians. However, I believe that these recommendations are imperative for all Christians as they navigate the terrain of their faith. I will certainly agree that the focus and emphasis on individualism somehow takes us back a few steps if that is considered as a primary framework and if communal narratives are embraced as primary to the Gospel then the Christian should pause and reflect. I still believe that was is lacking in Christianity is open and honest dialogues from the inside of the church. I find that in South Africa many Christian leaders either intentionally die step these conversations or they just don’t seem to see the worth of entertaining the exploration of faith through dialogue. Community is a biblical theme however it cannot replace the Gospel and so Christians are faced with a challenge to encourage community in the midst of uncertainty. Christian leaders have a responsibility to help people explore the Christian faith, to foster community and above all to remain true to what Dr. Oord calls the overarching narrative about God. [184]


James High

The philosophy of narrative postmodernism certainly starts moving the conversation back to a place where I am more comfortable with it, however I share some the of the concerns that the critics take on it. I fear that the narrative without a proper grounding becomes just another story in the world, no more or less true than the story that came before or after. If in the search for truth we come to the realization that all truth is found solely in the context of community, then we fail to acknowledge the Truth that binds all these realities together. If Truth can be found outside of the Christian community, then it points to the necessity that there is something at the center, a focus point that we are all striving toward. I believe that the understanding of this Truth can be understood differently in different community, but I cannot believe that the truth is created by the community.


Courtney Gilbert

Finding truth and meaning in the stories that we tell, is something I think all of humanity values. We see value in our stories, just as the Old and New Testament writers, Jesus, and the Jewish culture. These people saw the value in sharing stories, passing them down from one generation to the next. That is, after all, how we have the Bible today in 2016.
However, it is important to understand where stories are coming from, before we place value in it. This means we must consider who is telling this story, where is this person from, what has this person been taught and why should we place value in this story? In other words, why does this story matter to me? Another question we must ask is, what is the larger picture in which this story fits into? Our stories are only as valuable as the larger picture in which these stories fit into.


Mirtha Z. Castro-Martin

God bless everyone!
As I read Dr. Oord’s essay A Story to Orient Our Lives: Narrative, I got to appreciate more the whole idea of narrative postmodernism. It reminds me of the court system in America at the higher levels that affect more than the defense and the prosecution. Before the verdict of such case, there is a story to be told from both sides. The lawyers try to tell the story and encourage the jury to find meaning and truth. The jury, as a community, comes together, listens and then decides on what is reasonable, meaningful and true.
I would agree with Dr. Oord that, “Narrative postmodernism calls us away from radical individualism and radical relativism. It reminds us that community has a wisdom that transcends its individual parts.” However, every community is very different from each other in defining words, customs and what is morally right or wrong. There are different views, different customs and traditions that need to be considered when a community comes together. Therefore, fundamental principles have to be studied and analyzed in order for any particular community can make better judgment on certain topics of life.
Because narrative postmodernism sees truth as bigger than what we can condense in logical propositions and perceive through our sensory organs, as Christians we should not lose a desire to continue to learn, investigate and listen to possible arguments that are important to discover truth.
[Word Count: 237]


Chelsea Pearsall

There are many aspects of this entry that resonates with me. Like Dr. Oord, I am drawn towards the emphasis on community that narrative postmodern brings to the table. On the other hand, I am also unimpressed with the lack of critique and possibility accountability that the narrative postmodern community has, as well as what can appear to be lack of conversations with those who are not a part of a specific “team”.

In some ways, I like the ways that narrative postmodern and deconstructive postmodern thinking pushes past the boundaries and lines of the categories of sacred and secular. While deconstructive postmodernism finds the common in the binary, narrative postmodern places creation within the realm of God’s revelation. It is helpful to consider all of creation, even outside of Christendom, as Dr. Oord mentions, in interacting with God.


Denice Gass

The portion of this essay that I found the most interesting was Dr. Oord’s explanation of the critic’s arguments against narrative postmodernism. In particular, I found myself thinking a great deal about whether or not the narrative of God is played out exclusively within the walls of Christian churches and communities. Oord writes, “Evangelism and interfaith dialogue requires one to remain open to transformation by those outside one’s own linguistic community” (Oord, NP). I think Dr. Oord is quite correct here. If we are the people of God, then the narrative of God cannot be contained within the walls of our buildings and communities. His people are not just those who are saved, but those he is seeking to save. The world is his creation, these are his communities, and it is his story. We cannot contain him behind the closed doors of our churches any more than we can fully understand every aspect of his nature and character with our finite, human, minds. Another difficulty Oord points out is in the area of extremes. Oord reflects, “While modernity wrongly deemed individuals unrelated and essentially autonomous, narrative postmodernism seems not to allow persons authentic independence. Authoritarian communities can be just as devastating as isolated individualism.” (Oord, NP). As Christians, our sense of community should be balanced with the unique calling and gifts that God has given us through the Holy Spirit. While we are part of the Body of Christ, we are each unique and independent parts of that body working together for the good of the kingdom. This then, are two of the key areas where I see the narrative postmodern argument breaking down. While narrative postmodernism can be helpful to Christians as a reminder that each of us is called to learn from and be in community with one another, its tendency toward extreme dependence upon community, and isolation within community, ultimately means that its compatibility with Christian thought is rather poor.


Tom Wilfong

I think it is very important for us as Christians to cultivate a sense of community and get away from the “me” mentality that a lot of people have. I believe the narrative postmodernists have that right. I think it is important that we cultivate that in whatever ministry we are involved in. However, I do agree with the critics that say that there must be an overarching, universal standard that the different communities can use to check themselves. Otherwise I believe you leave too much room for error and too much room for people to abuse their communities. I think of cult leaders like Jim Jones, David Koresh, etc. that did not have that overarching standard to keep them in check. Without that the power that they wielded corrupted them or they were already corrupt and it gave them an avenue to follow that. I think it would be true of almost anyone over time that if left unchecked that they will begin to stray from their original purpose. So while community is important, having some way to critique and safe guard that community is just as important in my opinion.


Andy Perrine

I would agree with that narrative postmodernism is a more favorable framework to build up than deconstructive postmodernism, however is one we would not build entirely upon. “Narrative postmodernism argues that meaning is found in, and arises our of, particular communities. Truth is communal, not individualistic.” Stories of our faith have been passed on from one generation to the next. These stories have an effect on us all and have created unique testimonies for each individual, which are based on a common foundation. We must understand that even though these stories have been created from traditions that have been passed on from one generation to the next, God plays the key role in all of this. He is the underlying factor that brings our stories together and is the foundation of which the community is built upon. Our stories also help paint a picture of who God is. Numbers, equations, and even words cannot fully describe God, but I believe that our stories, the change in our lives, can help paint a picture for others.


Robert Merrills

R.C. Sproul summarizes a point that Augustine fostered: “All truth is God’s truth.” This blog opens up the idea that God’s truth can be located outside as well as within the Church. That idea in and of itself is worthy of greater reflection and invites critical discussion and the promise of an outside view. Communities are powerful systems in deriving, communicating and reinforcing their stories and identifyting the “truth” contained within them. Consequently they have a language that makes their stories intelligible and meaningful – it sets the context for a community’s narrative. Part of the strength of the narrative is the way the voice of the narrator has been transferred from an individual one to a communal one.

Communities can also suffer with a myopic attitude and consequently lack or become disinterested in taking a critical view of itself and some of its claims on truth. The Christian community is no different. It sometimes needs motivation to break out its spiritual inertia and look expectantly for God’s truth where it is manifest outside of the church as well. To do is also to admit the Church doesn’t have the only truth. But even more practical than that God can be located in the world outside of the Church which tips us closer to a transcendent and inclusive overarching narrative . The religious community’s desire to protect its truth can deprive itself and the world an opportunity in see a God who’s given it.


Mike Curry

There is a great advantage for Christian ministry from the narrative postmodernists’ understanding reality as story, especially in the two modernist problems that are overcome by this understanding. First, since modernism sought to exclude God and spirituality from reality because either “cannot be conclusively verified with our five senses,” narrative postmodernism offers the opportunity to rediscover the awe and mystery of God unfolded in a timeless story. Where modernism sought to systematically explain who God is, narrative postmodernism offers us the chance to just enjoy our part in the story of God. One does not need to know how God works to appreciate the awesome beauty of creation that unfolds around humanity.
Second, where modernism taught the importance of independence and the individual, narrative postmodernism gives the Church the chance to live and be understood as a community, not just a collection of individuals. The biblical metaphors for the oneness of the Church can be properly brought to life in the world. If truth is communal, then there is the opportunity for the church to come together around beliefs that unite us rather than individual beliefs that are varied and tend to divide us.


Timothy Streight

Narrative postmodernism wades into the depths. Opening up space for experience to have a seat at the table before those doing the experiencing have been told how to interpret their experience. There is a great humility required to subscribe to this way of thinking. It is not a line of theology that offers control but rather it hands out the tool to the subscriber of listening. Exhorting the theologian to be a good listener to the stories of their own life that have shaped them and to listen to the stories that scripture and the Church are still trying to convey.
The problem with handing out a tool is that once handed off the hammer may strike in a few places where the teacher did not intend but that is the beauty of the space that is created.


Devon Golden

“Narrative postmodernists agree that there is no objective all-encompassing standard by which to judge truth. Universal reason is an illusion. But they retain a place for reason, meaning, and truth. The community’s language games and forms of life determine what is reasonable, meaningful and true.” I think that this is an important point to consider and I think very helpful in theological evaluation. If we judge theology through the lens of different narratives then we can more appropriately share with and in different contexts. As different narratives arise because of different forms of life that hold unique languages, so do theologies become more broad and open to different forms of life with their unique languages. However, the difficulty here is that our theology may become too broad and begin to lack meaning. As Dr. Oord suggests, I think it is important that all these theologies bring themselves to a point where an overarching theme of the Gospel of Jesus Christ rules their narratives. This kind of model can be very powerful in missioning to large groups and contexts of people. The narratives we experience along the way can be used to understand context and therefore work in a way pertinent to that narrative, however, these narratives need to lead to the overarching narrative of Christ.


Mike B.

I think Dr. Oord makes a pivotal and correct assessment, stating the following: “A host of factors have fashioned our perspectives on life: how we’ve been raised, what we’ve been taught, and whom we know. Most importantly, the particular community in which we dwell provides a meaningful life story. Stories truly matter. Better: stories matter truly.” Indeed, we develop into who we are by what we experience throughout life. More often than not, who and what we encounter shape us.

I find myself going back and forth agreeing and disagreeing with modernism and postmodernism, both its deconstructive and narrative variants. I agree with the importance narrative postmodernism places on finding truth and meaning in stories. It’s one critical way in which we can connect with Scripture. I’m not sure I agree though with the supposition that modernism precludes theology and science from coexisting and that narrative postmodernism is required to go around and reconcile. While I haven’t looked heavily into it, it would seem that apologetics would be able to accomplish this.

I find myself in much agreement with Dr. Oord’s statement, “There is much in narrative postmodernism to which I say ‘yes.’ However, the tradition still prompts me to say ‘but.’” There is much that can be taken away from narrative postmodernism. It helps to provide another method to become involved with the story of the Gospel. In closing, Dr. Oord makes the very apt statement, “The gospel points to an overarching narrative that transcends individual and communal narratives.” Looking at the story and its impact on us will help us grow.


Andrew Sinift

Tom,
I agree that one of the biggest weaknesses of narrative theology is that it moves the problem of relativism from the individual to the community. Rejecting absolute truth is a tough claim for a Christian to make as it does not allow for our “truth” to hold any more weight than someone else’s “truth”. If truth is defined by the community and outsiders cannot critique said community, then any idea is up for grabs. All it takes is for a community to say, “Because we say so.”
Nevertheless, it is not fair for secular philosophers or scientists to critique the Christian community based on secular standards of “truth”. The same applies the other way around. There are different communities with different stories and ways of understanding the world. One community cannot condemn another based on its own standards. Yet, this does not mean that differing communities cannot come together, with their separate voices, and have discussion about what is true. Nor does it mean that certain voices or communities are closer or further to actual truth.
Ultimately, I land in a lot of the same places as you do. There is lot in narrative theology to say “yes” to, but there are is still room for healthy push-back.


Nancy Helms-Cox

Narrative postmodernists shift from the modernists theology of individualism to a theology of communal spiritual formation. While the idea of communal formation brings a sense of authenticity and accountability to God’s truth, it also takes away the believers privilege and responsibility to work out their salvation for them self. There are certain aspects of faith that I believe require a personal inward journey of searching and meaning. Through intentional discipleship, we can be guided along the way by community to a journey that also gives us individual principles for maturation. I agree with Orrd, in that we need a healthy balance of community and individual narratives.
As for narrative postmodernism and “authoritarian communities”, I believe, we need to have a healthy sense of Christian tradition, which often comes from our selective faith community; however, we also need to transcend the “conceptual walls” of our linguistic community and seek meaningful traditions outside our Christian security box. Speaking from one who grew up with institutionalized religion, largely inside the walls of a building, I was not readily exposed to differing opinions or ideas from others. This led to a very insular mindset. I have learned so much in recent years by “embracing the possibility that truth and meaning exists outside the Christian community.” That doesn’t mean I believe every theory or theology I hear, but I mature in my journey as I gain understanding and insight. Like Oord, I think “God’s truth transcends the Christian community.”


Kevin York

The main focus of this post is all about narrative postmodernism. The name of this movement speaks for itself. “Narrative postmodernism deals with uncertainty by encouraging us to find meaning and truth in stories” (Oord). When I first read this statement, I must admit that the hairs on the back of my neck started to bristle. By this, I mean that I thought this view of narrative postmodernism was speaking of Scripture when using the term stories. As I read through the rest of this post though, I was quickly proven to be wrong. “Narrative postmodernists believe that understanding reality as [a] story” (Oord). As expressed in the post, this is the opposite of modernism, which “says we can only consider something meaningful if expressed in universally reasonable or factual language” (Oord). As I look and examine myself, I would have to say that I am currently a follower of modernism. At the same time, this posting has me thinking about what it would change to view my life as a story, the story of who I am and how I came to be. I also have to put myself into the reference of Jesus as well. Jesus used stories/parables to get His point across to the people in a way that they may better understand the deeper meaning.
Word Count: 219
Oord, Thomas Jay. “A Story to Orient Our Lives” Narrative.” 29 December 2009. Thomas Jay Oord. Web. 30 October 2015.

The main focus of this post is all about narrative postmodernism. The name of this movement speaks for itself. “Narrative postmodernism deals with uncertainty by encouraging us to find meaning and truth in stories” (Oord). When I first read this statement, I must admit that the hairs on the back of my neck started to bristle. By this, I mean that I thought this view of narrative postmodernism was speaking of Scripture when using the term stories. As I read through the rest of this post though, I was quickly proven to be wrong. “Narrative postmodernists believe that understanding reality as [a] story” (Oord). As expressed in the post, this is the opposite of modernism, which “says we can only consider something meaningful if expressed in universally reasonable or factual language” (Oord). As I look and examine myself, I would have to say that I am currently a follower of modernism. At the same time, this posting has me thinking about what it would change to view my life as a story, the story of who I am and how I came to be. I also have to put myself into the reference of Jesus as well. Jesus used stories/parables to get His point across to the people in a way that they may better understand the deeper meaning.
Word Count: 219
Oord, Thomas Jay. “A Story to Orient Our Lives” Narrative.” 29 December 2009. Thomas Jay Oord. Web. 30 October 2015.


Millie Bearchell

Narrative postmodernism encourages us to find the meaning and truth in stories. Unlike modernist, the idea that logic and senses are what gives us truth, postmodernism states that the stories we tell and how we tell those stories, come from particular points of view. As well, Narrative postmodernism is about community and not the individual. Theology as Ord states, “Concerns itself with more than what is logical or sensory.” As an individual I am limited in what I understand or comprehend, but when in community I can glean from a wealth of knowledge, insight, and understanding. Of course, critics are aways there to point out the flaws, but there is one criticism that I can relate too, “No space for genuine criticism from within the community itself. The Community cannot hear the voice of the prophets inside or outside – it accepts without questions the old, old story passed down.” When my son came out gay and then married his boyfriend, I had a community that was dying with a lot of old, old stories. These stories had been passed down to me, and they were a part of who I was. Ord states, “If God is present to all creation, Christians must listen for truth outside Christendoms conceptual walls.” That is what I had to do. I had to be open to logic, my senses and other communities, to gain a better perspective and understanding of not only my son’s life, but also my embedded theology. I firmly believe that balance was and is the key when it comes to the different beliefs. Community and individual accountability are vital. This statement from the blog sums it up, “I find narrative postmodernism helpful in many ways. It reminds us that the community has wisdom that transcends its individual parts.” Sometimes, it might even be a different community than what you grew up in.


Nici Overduin

“If God is present to all creation, Christians must listen for truth outside Christendom’s conceptual walls.”
I agree with this criticism to narrative postmodernism. If we believe in prevenient grace and that God is indeed active and present in all creation, I believe that there are many outside of the Christian communities who can point us to God. One of the best witnesses of compassion and love I had in my teen years was my first boss. She was loving and compassionate to me in a way I did not expect to find outside of the Christian community. I was only 17 and her love opened my mind to God’s love presence also outside of the Christian community.
I had to have an experience outside of my own Christian conceptual wall, to understand that: “… the gospel of Jesus Christ points to an overarching narrative about God and creation that transcends all individual and communal narratives.”


Caleb S. Daniels

I don’t know if it’s my history with filmmaking or my entire life growing up in a single Christian denomination community, but the communal narrative thought processes of narrative postmodernism appeals to me. We as the Church have often forgotten that we are called to be aliens in the culture, not necessarily major players in it. Given that, I think those of us who find ourselves in the uber individualist cultures of today, which has seeped its way into our understanding of the Christian life of faithfulness, need a generation of believers whose stake is in communal truth and understanding. Looking back and seeing how practices today may or may not shape up with the Christian Tradition helps deepen the theology of communal discipline.
Of course, there are several out there who may find themselves in community-centric cultures, who may need to hear the great message that they are uniquely and wonderfully made, they are more than simply a cog in the machine of life. For them, narrative postmodernism still has much to say, but I think they need be careful (as we all should) not to solely emphasize communal participation — that’s how we end up in shallow understandings that we are Christian because we belong to a certain state or demographic.
In general, I think narrative postmodernism helps the Church strike a balance against the individualized scientific thinking of modernism.


James S.

It is quite often necessary to take a broad view and narrow it down in order to fit it in the requirements of a particular essay or paper. While one may not be completely satisfied with the content within the paper due to a word cap, what words one chooses to place into the paper are much more important in such a case. Highlighting only those things which are essential can sometime be difficult to do.
Some attempt to narrow down the broadness of theology. Too often that restricted view is proclaimed as truth for all, when it may indeed be one aspect of the truth for a smaller audience. In the end, one determines truth, and that is God – the community does not, nor does the human individual. The truth that the Holy Spirit may reveal through God’s Word may apply to an individual, a few, or the community.


Gerald Roesly

For me I do not believe that I can buy into the Narrative theology. I am trying to figure out how it fits into systematic theology. I am one that has studied systematic theology and I am also a conservative Christian who looks at the Bible more than a story but also as history and truths that pertain to life. I know that I look at scripture differently than Dr. Oord, yet what I can agree is that we need to be placing a lot more on community. Yet we also need to understand there is still a need for individual relativism. A very interesting article yet I am going to have to stick to a more conservative theology.


Lisa Smith

Narrative postmodernists believe that there is no universal standard by which to judge truth. While I am still modern enough not to be able to agree with that premise, I absolutely agree that there is truth and meaning to be found in stories and I appreciate the narrative postmodernist’s emphasis on community as the context in which those stories are fully understood. I realized as I read this article that the narrative postmodern worldview fits in very well with The Salvation Army’s (my own tradition’s) emphasis on the priesthood of all believeras and, in worship settings, on the testimonies of the congregation members. To us, great truth and meaning is found in the stories of those congregation members whose lives were transformed by Jesus in the context of a community of faith fmade up, oftentimes, by the poor, marginalized and outcasts. These souls were often not educated, and wouldn’t resonate with more modern logical, propositional truths of theology. There is nothing “mathematical” or “scientific” about their experience with God, but make no mistake, transformational theology would emerge from their shared experience of God’s work in their life. One may look at Salvation Army congregations, especially in our early days, and agree with the description that Salvation theology “is an opponent of progress and improvement in all the ways that diminish suffering in the world.” I think we would take that as a compliment.


Mark Davidson

I believe that there is a whole truth, and that this truth was once known to the human race, namely Adam and Eve. This is the truth that was shared when Adam and Eve walked and talked with God in the Garden. However, when the Fall occurred and Adam and Eve’s progeny moved further and further away from the Garden, the Truth began to be lost. God chose prophets through whom to speak and restore truth, but there has been a cycle of restoration and fall that has gone ‘round and ‘round throughout all of history.
As a result, there is truth that can be found everywhere, but there is also much that is not true to be found everywhere. Within Christianity is found the “most” truth, but what is true or not true is not actually determined by the community; it’s just true or not true. It is up to the individual to discover truth, but an individual’s determination is going to be greatly influenced, and either reinforced or rejected by the community.
The problem I have with the various forms of postmodern philosophy is that they seek to actually determine what is true, based on a number of different viewpoints and factors. The truth does not fail or begin to be true simply based on a philosophy or a perspective. Our worldview will influence what we determine to be the truth, but if it is truth and we determine it not to be, we are still wrong (and the other way around).


Joon Lee

One of my main questions to narrative postmodernism is, “Why should I find truth in stories as opposed to other methods of knowing?” Perhaps this has been clearly explicated in the past, but in all of my exposures to narrative postmodernism, I do not feel I have heard a good reason for this. Is it because human history has been primarily oral history? Is it because every culture seems to have its own stories that teach truths and shed meaning on life? I would personally appreciate why I should accept the presuppositions of narrative postmodernism.
Another issue is that I find myself a part of multiple communities. How am I supposed to navigate the different stories of different communities? Are they supposed to complement each other? Is there a way for me to ascertain truth when the narratives of these communities conflict? I agree with the article that Christianity demands an overarching narrative.


Jodine Zeitler

Dr. Oord,
This blog really helped me understand narrative postmodernism and modernism. I only wish I had read this before the other readings of this and last week. The definition of modernism as only considering something meaningful “if expressed in universally reasonable or factual language” such as math, science, and logic, really cleared up questions that lingered from this week’s readings. Also, the discussion around narrative postmodernism’s positives and negatives was extremely helpful. I especially like the examples of specific thoughts and how different theologies would approach them. Thank you for a very understandable write up of the issues surrounding narrative postmodernism!


Lisa Smith

Narrative postmodernists believe that there is no universal standard by which to judge truth. While I am still modern enough not to be able to agree with that premise, I absolutely agree that there is truth and meaning to be found in stories and I very much appreciate the narrative postmodernist’s emphasis on community as the context in which those stories are fully understood. I realized as I read this article that narrative postmodernism fits very well with The Salvation Army’s (my own tradition’s) emphasis on the priesthood of all believers and, in a worship setting, on the testimonies of congregation members. To us, great truth and meaning is found in the stories of those whose lives are transformed by Jesus in the context of a community of faith made up, often times, by the poor, excluded and outcast. These souls are often not well-educated and wouldn’t resonate with logical, propositional truths of modern theology. There is nothing “mathematical” of “scientific” about their experience with God, but make no mistake, a great, transformative theology emerges from the personal accounts of God’s work in their life as shared in community. The postliberal approach makes a lot of sense in this context. One may look at Salvation Army congregations and agree with the description that Salvationist Theology “is an opponent of progress and improvement in all the ways that diminish suffering in the world.” I think we would take that as a compliment.


Faith Poucher

Narrative Theology from my understanding is story one needs to orient one’s life. It also reaches the community, Christian community, and eventually to the world. Narrative theology encourages one to find meaning and truth in stories. The Bible is God’s story—his creation and in those stories or “The story” one can find truth and purpose for one’s life—for one’s community and the world.
Jesus used parables and those who took time to listen and dig seeking understanding were rewarded with the truth. The same is true today—seek, and you will find. This theology has many good points. One’s life is full of stories—beautiful stories, meaningful stories, and stories filled with truth. It is something that is needed in our world today.
One is told that God is Truth. He created the world, and his truth is evident everywhere—what this means is God’s truth is more than in the individual, church, or community. Everyone can see his truth if one truly seeks.
The modern world tells us that we are autonomous. Of course, we are not, we have created beings in God’s image. Narrative theology says one is not independent—we are created and bought with a price—the blood of Jesus Christ.


Michael Halverson

Is faith an individualistic experience or is it a community experience? Modernity claims that it’s more individualistic and Narrative suggests that it is mostly a community experience. As Oord states, neither is correct and it must be a balance between the two. I personally feel that Narrative is much closer that Modernity as I do believe that our faith is about community. Oord quotes Lindbeck in saying, “To be a Christian, is to become part of a community formed by the Christian cultural-linguistic system. Converting to Christianity is more about joining a new team than embracing a new set of ideas or beliefs.” There are many scriptures about spiritual gifts, dicsipleship, and worship that suggest that our faith requires community and without that commnity the church fails. So I feel that Narrative is closer to what true religion should be but it takes it to the extreme because our faith is also an individual experence as well. We each have to decide to follow, we have to decide to allow the Holy Spirit to work in us. To grow in holiness is an individual experience as well. So one can take some of both Modernity and Narrative to have a healthy faith, it’s a balance.


Nathan Bingham

I appreciate the breakdown of Radical Orthodoxy or Postliberalism as this
helped me to get a better handle on it. Described as it is above I cannot
help but wonder what the liberal theology movement was attempting to
accomplish by watering down the truth of the Bible in order to accommodate
principles that are anti-Christian. The arguments against the Postliberal
movement don’t seem to be able to describe something better but merely
identify the dangers of an approach that doesn’t try to find its place in the
present. This disregards any attempt to at using the Postliberal approach as
a base. A touchstone to that we can begin to weigh decisions against. Not to
proclaim that the ancient text is inerrant and always correct but recognize
the truth as it was and use that as a starting point to see how the Christian
story has grown. That may step outside the lines of strict narrative
postmodernism but I much prefer the inclusion of the present into the biblical
narrative compared to the outright rejection of tradition leaving a present
day Christian to the whims of whatever influence may happen by in their life.


Jessica

“Truth is communal, not individualistic.” I would point again to my supposition that what we perceive of the world only happens in interaction. Without interaction, we have nothing to perceive. Even the modernist world-view that derives truth from empirical means cannot escape that the finding of truth has to come from interaction, either with the natural world, or with other humans. So I think that the postmodernist idea that truth is found in community is sound. I do not agree that our lives only reflect the truth from one distinct community though. We are way more complicated than that. If I sit and start listing off all of the different communities that I am a part of, it just goes on and on and on. As a Christian, and so a part of the believing community, I have made the choice to have the story of Christ be the story that governs and guides my choices and decisions in all other communities. Isn’t it great that I am a thinking and reasoning being who can make those kinds of choices? And be aware that I have choices like that to make?
Even my Christian story has many interlocking circles, as would anyone’s. I have a core group of family and friends who are my nearest and probably most influential story-tellers, then my specific congregation, then the larger Christian community that I participate in outside of my home church, and on and on until finally I reach the Story that is God’s. Because of my beliefs, I think that the Story where God is the author overwhelms and transcends all other stories by all other communities universally. So I find narrative postmodernism to be a deeply satisfying way of communicating how we arrive at Truth.


Stephen Phillips

There is something appealing to the idea of wisdom and truth coming from stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. The idea narrative postmodernism sounds relevant to many African cultures simply because of the cultural similarities and the wisdom that often gets passed down from the elders. However, at the same time, I understand that many of these stories come from a different world we live in. The question of whether we should add weight to these stories or whether these stories and too subjective and because they are subjective there can be no absolute truth in them. It becomes important that we find balance in how we deal with narrative postmodernism. I do believe truth comes in both the individual and the community. There is much wisdom when the believers of God come together for one purpose. However, at the same time, Jesus invites us to have a personal relationship with Him. Where we can talk to God personally and directly. Thus, both the individual and the community is equally important.


Shauna Hanus

I am struggling with the idea that truth and meaning is only found in community. We are individuals who make the community. This does not change God’s truth. The community is where I the individual experience the communal portion of God’s narrative. I also do not agree that the Christian cultural-linguistic system is what defines being a Christian. Christianity has words associated with the belief system, but it is not the words that make one a Christian. It is belief in Christ as one’s savior that makes one a Christian.

The idea that an outsider cannot understand Christianity’s community-derived logic is understandable. Any group that one is not a part of will not make sense until you become part of that community. To be part of the Christian community does not make one a Christian. People exist in the Christian community who do not know Christ as their savior, but they are still part of the community. The community does not save, but it can serve as a pathway toward salvation.


Pam Novak

This overview is helpful in distilling the merits and limitations of narrative postmodernism. I was cheered to read of those new movements like radical orthodoxy and post-liberal theology, that are reaching back past modernism to early Christian writings. In narrative postmodernism, “the community’s language games and forms of life determine what is reasonable, meaningful and true.” Modernism and related ways of thinking—that something can’t be real if it can’t be measured, that “truth is individualistic”—have done great harm.
Modernism (since it’s dead, we can safely throw stones at it) may well be the culprit behind our loss of historical memory. We no longer remember that Princeton (and many other prestigious universities) was founded as a School of Divinity. Many of our hospitals were established by the Methodists, Presbyterians, and other Christian denominations—but their names have been changed, their history erased.
Critics of narrative postmodernism “argue it allows no space for genuine criticism from within the community itself.” This claim is absurd. Have these critics been paying attention to the number of new denominations resulting from “criticism from within”? Have they been aware of the repeated attempts of the “Ecumenical Movement” to get Jews, Protestants, Orthodox, and Catholics to focus on their commonalities rather than their differences? Have these critics even noticed that the worship service in many churches is today quite unrecognizable to church attenders of fifty years ago—blue jeans, bass guitars and (oh my goodness!) women in the pulpit? There are valid criticisms of narrative postmodernism, as there are of any idea, but this isn’t one of them.
Finally, Dr. Oord write, “I think God’s truth transcends the Christian community.” Of course this is true, in that God is involved everywhere. But He has tasked the church with being the message bearer, the witness, the teller of the Story. Whether the church has been doing that to God’s satisfaction or not, the assignment remains the same.


Carlie Hoerth

Dr. Oord wrote, “The gospel of Jesus Christ points to an overarching narrative about God and creation that transcends all individual and communal narratives.” This makes sense to me because it moves us away from an idea that every community gets to make its own truth. If there is one transcendent truth then every community is held accountable to that truth. The question though is, how does a community know that they are following the transcendent truth? Christians are not the only community who think that they have The Truth, and some would even say that some religions have a piece of the truth. But who is to say how much of the Truth you need to be counted as a Truth follower? I think that as Christians we need to share the truth that we know, but shouldn’t we be open to the idea that we can learn truthful things from other religions and faith traditions?
I think postmodernity has given Christians the opportunity to hear others stories and use them to critique our own beliefs. I think that sometimes we can be afraid of listening to other’s beliefs, as if their stories could infect our stores and our truth. However, if our truth is the Truth, then I think it can hold its own, and if in the process we find that our Truth is weak then it will have been worthwhile to have listened so that we can reevaluate our truth and make sure it is the Truth. I think we can learn a lot about the transcendent Truth if we take the time to listen to other communities and their take on what that Truth is. It can only help us align ourselves closer to the Truth.


Jennifer Ayala

Hi, Dr Oord. You said, “We may never grasp that overarching narrative in its entirety. But settling for what we know is only part of the story- as important as that may be-is ultimately unsatisfying.” When we try to understand who God is and what he means to us, we may need to be okay with the unknown. The modernists can only see the truth in something they can prove, something that is visible and attainable. So, to not see God is a mystery and a reason to not believe in the unseen. Theology serves the purpose for us to believe in something that is unseen by the stories, experiences, and community. We, as Christians are in a great community where we can share and inspire others about the love God has for us. Also, the community helps us to know and sense God in moments when we need to settle with the unseen and the unknown even though it’s not what we prefer.


Missy Segota

This blog, and narrative postmodernism in general, seems to tout the idea that truth cannot be whole from people because they are all biased and skewed due to their experience and community. To me, this does not fit with the Christian experience. We are called to “come as we are” and God will use us in the way He sees fit. The narrative is led by God in a way that it needs to be heard. If one person was able to reach everyone else then there would be no need for variety. I have said once before that God creates each of us to speak to a specific group or person. I know that I am made to speak to children and relate to them. That doesn’t mean that I can’t lead youth or adults, but the way I speak is meant for children to understand and hear. The children are equipped to reach others like them. People with special needs are often the people who can reach others with special needs. So as a Christian I view this truth a little differently.
I don’t believe there is one absolute truth that we must sleuth out and we must all believe in exactly. I believe God designed us each to see something a little differently so that we can reach the people that we were made to reach. If we take away the individuality, we may not be able to reach them. I think that if God wanted rote answers the Bible would look a whole lot more like an instruction manual.
I think the goal for all of us should be to understand and even accept that we will never know everything. We would not need faith if we had it all. Narrative postmodernism may be widely accepted as one of the more prominent theories but, I think we miss a lot if we buy into this idea without looking at the bigger picture.


Meg Crisostomo

Hi,

The influence of an individual’s narrative is evident and proven through socialization. One’s community and surroundings greatly influence the way a person thinks, acts, and believes. In a person’s walk with God, this narrative is shaped by a relationship and factors that cannot be seen or proved. Therefore, the modernist view supports what is contradictory to faith.

Dr. Oord states, “What is true is relative to a community and its way of life.” This issue of communal truth becomes challenging in the realm of Christianity because God calls Christians to reach out to everyone around them not just fellow Christians. The knowledge of Christ and the gospel itself is not limited to those who are already Christian, but it is freely offered to all who choose to accept it. Both in the church and out of the church, we have to be open to hearing out things that are different from what we already believe. As the body of Christ we can share the truth of God to those who have never heard it before, but we also have to be open to hearing what ‘outsiders’ are telling us. It’s a two-way, reciprocated, give and take transaction not just a one-way forcing on of beliefs.

206.


Kaylee Tilford

I believe this idea has a lot of value, but as was stated by Tom, does not fully provide an answer for how the church should understand truth. I believe the biggest thing the church can learn from this approach is the need for community. Right now, too much of religion is about the individual: accepting Christ as our personal savior, making sure we are right with God, personal prayer and devotions, and so on. We get so caught up in how we are in relation to God and we ignore how we are in relationship to each other. However, when Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment He emphasized not only love of God, but also love of neighbor. By only focusing on our relationship with God we are only half following Jesus’ command. While I believe there are overarching truths that apply to all communities and therefore makes this approach incapable of being fully effective, I believe we could use a heavy dose of this idea simply so that we can move beyond the individualistic faith that is so prominent in our churches today.


Samantha Shreve

I found the paragraph about using the word “liberal” was a phenomenal point. I have seen this take place in many ways, manners and examples. I often wonder how one word can mean so many different things. The understanding that one word can have such drastic meanings is a strong cry that we must be clear what we are saying, how we mean it and what we are trying to convey. This is where the importance of postmodernism is high in our language. We have to be certain that we are believing, speaking and walking what we believe and that we are speaking in context. We have to be sure that the social status, social level and social understanding is what we are speaking from and to, otherwise we end up with a lot of confused people who are then at risk of not understanding what we are saying. When it comes to the word of God we cannot afford to be misunderstood. We must speak in ways that those around us truly can grasp the words. If we can do this we will really help others to hear, and hopefully experience the word of God in a new and fresh way.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.